This week’s blog was contributed by Theo Miron, PsyS. Theo is a licensed specialist in school psychology and a nationally certified school psychologist. He spent nearly 18 years providing psychological services to public school students in Minnesota, Arizona, and Texas.
School psychologists in the U.S. report that completing student assessments is the task they perform most frequently. These psychoeducational and psychological tests are based on the basic principles of measurement theory, standardized testing, and normal distributions. Practitioners receive extensive training in measurement theory—maybe even to the extent that their dreams are filled with visions of the normal or bell curve.
The normal curve is a fundamental concept psychologists use to help measure and explain student performance; that is, how a student functions in comparison to other children of the same age or grade level. We psychologists love to throw around the numbers associated with standard scores, percentile ranks, T scores, and scaled scores, knowing our fellow psychologists and well-versed teachers will know exactly what we’re talking about. Unfortunately, though, measurement theory is a relatively obscure field, so this type of language may puzzle parents, students, and clients.
During my first few years as a school psychologist, I struggled to find an effective way to explain these types of results. As a visual learner, I thought adding visual aids to my results meetings might help explain the information more clearly. So one year, I harnessed my inner artist and drew a nice normal curve with standard deviations clearly marked out. I then headed to the copy machine and generated a hundred more. During results meetings, I’d break out my box of colored markers and a ruler and start mapping out the standard scores from the different tests I had given, with the normal curve as the back drop. Once done, I’d have a few marked-up normal curves for each measure the student had taken.
Using these visual aids during results meetings helped both parents and teachers start to understand what the different scores meant. Not only did I receive some nice compliments on my “art projects,” but I also started noticing that more parents had questions and comments about the results. One parent explained she’d sat through several of these types of meetings over the years, but mine was the first one where she completely understood what the scores meant and how her child compared to other students his age.
These days, you can keep your art supplies in your drawer. Simply log on to PARiConnect, our online assessment platform, scroll to the Quick Links section in the bottom right corner, and click Interactive Bell Curve.
This new interactive tool allows you to enter relevant student data, and then add scores for up to three different tests on the same normal curve. You can enter the name of the specific assessment, the type of score you’d like to report (standard, scale, T score, or percentile), and up to 10 index or subtest raw scores. The system plots each score across the normal curve using vertical lines color-coded to the specific tests entered. When finished, you have a few options to explain results to parents, teachers, and clients: present “as is” on-screen, print out a paper copy, or print to a PDF file that can be presented (and shared) digitally.
The interactive bell curve is a free feature available to every PARiConnect user, and it can be used for any test on the market—not just those published by PAR. So put those markers away, log on to PARiConnect, and try it out yourself.
Interested in or have questions about other assessment products for schools? Visit our school resources page.